Legislators set priorities for session

Published 6:29 pm Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Even before the Virginia General Assembly opened its 2017 session a week ago on Jan. 11, Del. James E. Edmunds II and State Sen. Frank M. Ruff Jr. filed bills ahead of the new session.

Edmunds, 47, is a Republican and was elected as a delegate in 2010. He holds the House District 60 seat representing all of Prince Edward, Charlotte and Halifax counties and a portion of Campbell County. He sits on the Militia, Police and Public Safety; Agriculture Chesapeake and Natural Resources; and Health, Welfare and Institutions committees.

Edmunds pre-filed no bills of his own, but did sign on as co-patron for two bills prefiled by District 25 Del. R. Steven Landes.

The first is HB 1401, which would prohibit institutions of public learning from abridging the freedom of any individual, including enrolled students, faculty and other employees, and invited guests, to speak on campus except as otherwise noted in the U.S. Constitution.

The second bill is HB 1402, which would require the chairs, vice chairs and vice rectors of the governing boards of institutions of higher learning, and the chairs and vice chairs of each committee of those boards, to be a Virginia resident.

Edmunds said he has filed seven other bills, several of which relate to hunting. One would allow hunters to choose between blaze orange and blaze pink vests in an effort to encourage more women to hunt. Another would separate the hunting tags for deer and turkey and charge — along with bear tags, which were separated from the other last year — no more than $12 each. A third bill would allow sling bows, which are already used for hunting small game, to be used for hunting big game. The four of these bills would require hunting landowners to obtain hunting licenses, but would not charge them a fee to do so.

Perhaps one of the largest bills Edmunds has filed is one which would affect the Virginia Tobacco Board. Edmunds’ bill — which is being reflected by a similar bill being pre-filed by Ruff — would, at its core, increase the assessment charged on 100 pounds of harvested tobacco from 20 cents to 40 cents.

“This was brought to us by the Farm Bureau and growers,” Edmunds said. “The money used for marketing and also goes into research.”

Another of Edmunds’ bills would allow TMI AutoTech in South Boston, which he said is Virginia’s only auto manufacturer, to sell its cars in Virginia. Currently, the vehicles, which resemble open-cab race cars and off-road vehicles, are only sold in California.

“If Virginian’s want to buy them, they should be able to,” Edmunds said.

Finally, Edmunds has also filed a bill similar to one Ruff filed that would replace an ex-officio seat at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center from the superintendent of Halifax County Public Schools with a superintendent from any of southside’s school divisions.

Edmunds said his primary goal for the legislative session is to restore funding not only to the Virginia State Police, but increase pay for county deputies.

“They are suffering an 18 percent turnover rate,” Edmunds said. “It’s just really difficult for them (sheriffs) to retain trained deputies.”

Ruff, 68, is a Republican who was first elected as a delegate in 1994 and was then elected as a state senator in 2000. He holds the Senate District 15 seat representing all of Charlotte, Lunenburg, Mecklenburg and Nottoway counties and portions of Brunswick, Campbell, Dinwiddie, Halifax, Pittsylvania and Prince George counties, as well as part of the city of Danville.

Ruff is chair of the State Senate’s General Laws and Technology Committee and also sits on the Agriculture, Conservation and Natural Resources and the Rules committees.

Last week, Ruff had pre-filed a total of 14 bills ahead of the 2017 session, but said recently he had more. He said his priority for the session is the budget.

“The budget the governor put out was a bit too optimistic, so there have been cutbacks,” Ruff said. “When you promise state and state-supported employees a raise and then don’t give it to them, that’s kind of demoralizing.”

He said that is especially the case concerning state police and county deputies.

“There is too much turnover and not enough training,” Ruff said.

In addition to his version of the bill covering Tobacco Board changes, another bill Ruff pre-filed, SB 950, would cut the red tape required to determine if a vehicle being deemed non-repairable or rebuilt should be totaled by insurance companies by eliminating the need to determine damage on a percentage basis. He said Virginia is the only state in the country that still uses percentages. Ruff said Virginia’s policy is “very bureaucratic” and his proposal would mirror what is done in every other state.

Some of Ruff’s other pre-filed bills include:

• SB 949 — makes changes to the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center, including replacing the Halifax County Public Schools superintendent as an ex-officio member with a superintendent from any Southside region public schools division.

• SB 951 — require school services providers to provide each student or their parent with the student’s personal information upon request in a downloadable electronic format.

• SB 953 — include the criminal law definition of “muzzleloader” into the current definitions of muzzleloading pistol, rifle and shotgun.

• SB 998 — require the Department of Motor Vehicles to provide copies of accident reports to a requesting party within five days of the request.

• SJ 247 — a joint bill to direct the Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission (JLARC) to review all forms of compensation to commonwealth employees.

• SJ 248 — a joint bill to direct JLARC to study the feasibility of allocating more Virginia Lottery prize money to localities.